Over 30 million pounds of peanut butter and peanut paste produced at a plant operated by Peanut Corporation of America in Blakely, Georgia have been recalled due to possible contamination with Salmonella typhimurium, which could produce food poisoning symptoms within 12 to 72 hours.
According to the latest numbers provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 486 cases of salmonella food poisoning have been reported throughout the United States. This includes at least 6 salmonella deaths and over 100 hospitalizations involving more severe forms of food poisoning.
The reported number of food poisoning cases is likely to skyrocket over the next few weeks, as it usually takes up to three weeks for the CDC to receive reports of illness. In addition, only 1% to 10% of all cases are usually ever reported, meaning that tens of thousands of people have likely been sickened by the contaminated peanut butter.
The Salmonella typhimurium strain of bacteria found in the reported cases of food poisoning was also found in an open five gallon container of peanut butter at a nursing home in Minnesota which was manufactured by Peanut Corporation of America.
Kellogg Co. has also confirmed that the FDA has identified the strain of salmonella in Austin Peanut Butter Crackers which were made from peanut paste produced at that plant.
On January 19, 2009, the Connecticut Department of health tested a previously unopened container of King Nut peanut butter which was produced by Peanut Corporation of America. That container also contained the same strain of bacteria, confirming that the source of the contamination is the processing plant where the container was sealed after production.
The peanut processing plant has been closed, but the potentially contaminated products produced have been distributed throughout the United States. Peanut butter sold in bulk containers between 5 pounds and 1,700 pounds were shipped to food service institutions, such as nursing homes, hospitals and schools, raising substantial health concerns, since young children, elderly and those with a compromised immune system are more susceptible to food poisoning.
Peanut paste manufactured at the plant was also sold to more than 70 different manufacturers who used the ingredient in hundreds of different types of peanut butter cookies, peanut butter crackers, cereal, candy and ice cream with peanut butter, making it difficult for consumers to identify which products have been recalled.
The FDA has established a searchable database at FDA.gov with the current list of peanut butter recalls. However, since new products seem to be added to the list daily, many consumers are avoiding anything with peanut butter in it.
Peanut Corporation of America, which is a family owned business with less than 50 employees, will likely face hundreds or even thousands of peanut butter food poisoning lawsuits which will ultimately be filed on behalf of individuals who are diagnosed with salmonella typhimurium food poisoning.